On November 6, voters in San Antonio, Texas will vote on whether the city should own and operate a network of early childhood education centers. The initiative is controversial, and rightly so. There are many reasons to question whether such a network, which would operate in competition with existing private and public day-care and pre-school programs, is the best or even an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
This Policy Brief describes the initiative and then presents 21 reasons the plan is a bad idea. Sources for facts and numbers that appear here are readily found from public sources, which the author is willing to help readers find.
Mayor Julian Castro and the City of San Antonio have placed a proposition on the upcoming November ballot to enact a sales tax to create a new “Municipal Development Corporation” that would build and operate new early childhood education centers around the city. According to the city manager’s Web site, Pre-K 4 SA is designed to improve the quality and quantity of pre-kindergarten (pre-K) childhood education for four-year-olds city wide focusing on numeracy and literacy as well as providing professional development for pre-K through grade 3 educators.”
The initiative would be funded by the city’s remaining 1/8 cent sales tax. The initiative would be governed by a city council-created corporation with a council-appointed 11 member board. The city council would approve the program’s annual budget. The city has promised to include annual performance audits and assessments to measure success that would be conducted by independent third-party entities. The program would be for an eight-year period and would be subject to voter re-authorization in November 2020.
Four “Education Excellence Centers” would be located in four different quadrants of the city, each with approximately 50,000 square feet consisting of classrooms, family support rooms, teacher training areas, and playgrounds to support approximately 500 four-year-olds.
Over eight years, Pre-K 4 SA would consist of an initial three-year build-up in enrollment and five years of full enrollment and program evaluation. In years four through eight, 3,700 children would be enrolled annually, with 2,000 enrolled in city-built “model centers.”
Enrollment would be free of charge for students who meet at least one of the state eligibility criteria. A four-year-old is eligible if he/she or his/her families are:
■ eligible for free or reduced lunch (is at 185 percent of the federal poverty level); or
■ unable to speak and comprehend the English language; or
■ homeless; or
■ the child of an active-duty member of the armed forces of the United States; or
■ the child of a member of the armed forces of the United States who was injured or killed while serving on active duty; or
■ is or has been in foster care.
Note: Children with these characteristics are already eligible for free pre-K services.
Enrollment would be chosen through lottery systems administered by participating school districts. Funding for Pre-K 4 SA is contingent on the November 6, 2012 special sales tax ballot measure. More information about the program is available from Rebecca Flores, the City of San Antonio’s Education Coordinator, at 210/207-2066.
Jeff Judson is a senior fellow and member of the Board of Directors of The Heartland Institute. He is the former president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Under his leadership the TPPF became one of the largest and most influential free-market state think tanks in the U.S. and became known for its influence on public opinion, the news media, state legislators, and top elected officials.